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My DH was abused as a child - how can I help him?

(15 Posts)
waspandbee Mon 18-Jul-11 10:33:31

My DH is a wonderful man and I am very proud of the way he has made a good life for himself despite the awful physical and mental abuse he suffered as a child.

For as long as I have known him he hasn't really been able to talk much about what happened, but a recent death in the family seems to have opened up a whole can of worms and he has started recalling events of the past. He's sleeping badly, pacing the house a lot and I need to know how to best help him. We also had our first child last year which I think has made him put the absue into context a bit more.

Basically, his mother died when he was six and his father remarried very quickly. His stepmother beat the children with a belt, emotionally "tortured" them in his words by playing them off against each other, and most horrifically forced the children to beat each other for her entertainment and to avoid worse punishments. There are many, many other things that happened that he is simply unable to talk about.

I was brought up in a loving home and am struggling to know how to help him. Up until now he says he has dealt with it by imagining it as having happened to a different person. He also says he can't remember large chunks of his childhood. But in the past couple of weeks he is talking about it every night, chewing things over, and getting angry. Last night he was physically shaking while recalling one event.

I have mentioned counselling to him but he says he doesn't know how it would help. I don't know either because I've got no experience of this kind of thing.

I suppose what I'm wondering is can you tell me what kind of professional help is available for people like my DH and how does it work? Also, are there any books anyone could recommend that might help him? What should I be doing to help? And finally, I believe this woman should be prosecuted - can this be done, what evidence would be needed, and is this an inappropriate thing to suggest to my DH at this stage?

Many thanks, I have namechanged for this.

ItsMeAndMyPuppyNow Mon 18-Jul-11 10:53:32

Counselling would help because it will:

- Permit him to go over past experiences in a safe place;

- Help him understand how his past is still affecting him now;

- Help him be a better parent, and not unconsciously repeat any mistakes of the past or go too far the other way in raising his own child. (If I can give a personal example here: I have a controlling, abusive mother. I hate the way she raised me so much that my instinct is to nurture the hell out of any children, and I direct anger at myself in any situation where I need to apply discipline. Counselling has helped me see that this makes me too permissive, which is also not good for children.)

- Help him deal with his anger constructively: he's carrying a lot of anger, it needs to come out. Better for it not to either blow in the wrong context (it might help him here to think of the effect that would have on his baby), or to be contained (that leads to depression).

There are many great self-help books too. A very simple, straightforward one that I recommend to start with is Susan Forward's "Toxic Parents".

waspandbee Mon 18-Jul-11 12:43:18

Thanks very much for your post, Itsme - I will look up that book and order him a copy.

I do think he is very angry but has become good at shutting out that part of his life. One of the issues he raised when I suggested counselling was that it would be "too dangerous" to bring up everything that has happened in the past. I think he is terrified of what it might lead him to do (he has sporadic contact with his father, who has never apologised and they have never discussed what happened). He has become very adept at not thinking about his past. I think he is frightened he might confront or even physically hurt his father if he were to think too much about his past, although he has never shown any aggression since I have known him.

I personally think it is important he deals with his past, on some level however I wonder if some things are just too painful to relive.

waspandbee Mon 18-Jul-11 15:53:23


mumsamilitant Mon 18-Jul-11 16:12:32

Oh dear, your poor husband. I totally agree with ItsMeAndMyPuppyNow. Please try to steer him round to counselling. It helped me ENORMOUSLY! The best thing I ever did actually. I didnt have the best of childhoods. You can certainly support him but you cannot deal with these sorts of problems, he need professional help.

Good luck to you both.

MizzyTizzy Mon 18-Jul-11 16:22:45

I'm wary of giving advice tbh because everyone has a different story and way of dealing with that story - but as you seem at a loss of where to start here are my very 'general' thoughts.

Listen, if you can without questioning too much...just let him get it all out...then when he becomes more calm then ask any questions if you want, but be very gentle.

Sit on your anger if you being angry on his behalf could make him ashamed that he couldn't deal with the abuse himself at the time...let rip on here/to a friend/ learn kick boxing...but I wouldn't advise stomping about the house on his behalf.

He has enough on his plate dealing with his stuff and may be unable to cope with your feelings about everything.

If he gets angry...then encourage that release through a sport or something...even long walks at speed could be enough to release everything for a while. (I have a punch bag in the cellar for emergency venting.)

Encourage counselling but don't push it...he needs to do everything in his own time...bit by bit - pushing too hard could create emotional overload and he tries to suppress any/all memories/emotions - which could back fire into it all coming out in one mad rush and your DH not coping at all.

...and if it was me I would not mention prosecuting his abuser...wait for him to suggest it if he ever does.

Confronting an abuser is a very difficult thing and he may never be ready for that...IMO this is 'his' story and it is up to him how he deals with it.

It may be that you may feel the need for counselling also at some time to help you deal with what happened to your DH...someone to support you supporting him.

I hope this helps in some way and as I said each story is different and will require different solutions - but may be some of the above will help you help him.

TheArmadillo Mon 18-Jul-11 16:47:50

Counselling may help but your dh may not be ready for it yet. Pushing him to 'deal' with this may make things worse. It maybe that he can't cope with dealing with all these things at once. He does need professional help but he may not be ready to admit it yet. He's probably worried that unleashing his past may lead him to become so angry or upset he wouldn't cope - that it would lead to him becoming violent with uncontrollable anger (especially if that was done to him) or that he would have a complete mental breakdown. He is probably still terrified of his family deep down and this may cause reluctance to deal with any of this.

The person who wrote toxic parents also wrote toxic inlaws to give advice to partners of those abused. It maybe useful for in helping supporting him - as you say it is difficult if you come from a normal loving family to understand this kind of situation.

Don't even start to raise the idea of prosecution yet - its too much and may take years of therapy before he is ready to consider it. Same with confronting his family.

There are forums for those who were abused though the only one I know of is daughters of narcissistic mothers (though I believe they have male members as well0. They are often only viewable to members (because of the sensitive topic) but he wouldn't have to post. It may help to see that others have been through similar. Also they may be very useful for further information on the subject.

silentcatastrophe Mon 18-Jul-11 18:45:26

There is a great organisation called NAPAC, which may well be worth looking into. Above all, it can help to know that you are not alone. Knots can take a long time to untie, especially when people have spent so much time tying them tighter and tighter.

waspandbee Tue 19-Jul-11 09:02:45

Thank you for your thoughtful responses. Your first paragraph struck a chord with me Armadillo - I believe that is the case with him.

I know this isn't about me and it might seem a bit self-indulgent but I need to rant a bit about how I feel at the moment. Sometimes I get really frustrated at how I see my DH and his siblings almost colluding with the wider family. Everyone KNOWS what happened and yet when we see them (which is rarely) it's just jokey small talk. I feel like screaming - you evil fuckers, I KNOW what you did! I don't want them anywhere near my baby and yet to protect my DH I play the game because speaking the truth would break him and I know it's not my role to force a confrontation.

I so want him and his siblings to be strong, to see what happened and to speak to truth, and yet the whole family is just a big facade. There is no real conversation, just smalltalk, because how could there be any conversations about anything? It is just so hopeless and so, so sad.

thisishowifeel Tue 19-Jul-11 09:59:23

Two books. "Allies in healing"....Can't remember the author. And, "If the man you love was abused" By Marie Browne. The second of these has been the more helpful to me. I come from an abusive family too though, although unlike h, was not singled out for the sexual stuff.

My h too has large chunks of childhood missing from his memory. It has taken two years of massive upheaval and unfortunately, separations, for us to get to a point where things are truly being addressed, and he finally went for an MH assessment on Monday.

The second book mentioned gives a lt of advice about dealing with your own anger, and how to deal with your feelings about his family. Which given your last post could be quite comforting/ useful.

It also makes the point that the proportion of men who were abused, who go on to be abusers, is tiny.

I have had to cut all contact with my family, because of the scenario you describe above....that weird denial thing. There are certain members of his family, that I don't think I could deal with seeing ever again. I don't know if I could stop myself from....well anyway, hopefully that won't now happen.

This is so very hard. Hugs to you and your DH.

garlicbutter Tue 19-Jul-11 10:14:46

If you can afford it, how about finding a counsellor with experience around childhood abuse - for yourself? I suggest this for two reasons: you could probably do with a safe place to be heard about your own anger & frustrations, plus you will gain what therapists call "tools" for coping.

It's important to stress that I'm not recommending you become your husband's counsellor, nor that there is some magic formula. Therapy teaches you new ways of looking at things, a deeper understanding of human complexities and different styles of communication. I hear myself saying things to my (abusive) family members, which simply could not have been said before I started therapy - at least, not without causing mass meltdown!

You'd be asking too much of yourself if you expected to know how to cope with it all. The books above are good - in conjunction with some real-life expert support, they could help you turn this development into a useful project rather than a terrible problem. (I could have put that better, but still.)

It's normal for locked-away feelings to surface after the death of an abuser. That fact goes some way to demonstrate what a fierce hold these people have over their victims, well into adulthood.

TheArmadillo Tue 19-Jul-11 11:09:15

You do need support yourself and a place to rant - its not self-indulgent, its giving you the space so you can be calm and supportive to him.

I gave my dh permission to discuss what I had told him with his parents and with close friends. It was difficult but I needed to break the habit of never telling anyone anything that I had grown up with.

I essentially did have a mental breakdown which I am recovering from. It was positive in a way in that it forced me deal with everything, plus it got me treatment and support and dealt with issues I had had since childhood. On the other hand I still have a fear of having another one.

waspandbee Tue 19-Jul-11 11:53:02

Thank you. I suppose it feels self indulgent because I know how lucky I am to have the stong foundation that comes from a loving family. But DH has asked that I don't tell anyone in RL so it is important I can talk in some form.

I will take on board the advice to just listen, rather than probe. I think I have been guilty of that in the past.

Thank you for sharing your experiences everyone who has posted - it must be difficult to talk about something so difficult.

Thank you for posting about the fact that relatively few men who are absued go on to abuse - it is not something I had openly considered about my DH, because he is so loving, but I suppose it is nice to be reassured. I think I am a bit frightened that if he does start trawling through his past, his personality might change and become destructive.

I don't think DH is open to counselling at the moment. However, I feel he has come a long way in simply opening up to me recently. It took a long time after we met for him to talk in any way about his family. He is taking so much joy in being a father, it is wonderful to see. However, sometimes I wonder if he is able to fully experience things if that doesn't sound strange, because he has suppressed so much. SOmetimes he seems cold, almost blank, although most of the time he is so warm. He also finds it difficult to relate to other peoples' stories - eg the other day my dad was telling him a story about when we were kids and my little sister got lost on the beach, and he didn't seem to know how to respond empathetically.

garlicbutter Tue 19-Jul-11 11:59:24

I still get that sometimes. It probably never occurred to him that a parent would be frantic with worry if they couldn't see their child on the beach. These days, I'd recognise what was going on and appreciate the 'new' information - but, before therapy, I'd have gone a bit blank as you describe. Doesn't compute -> ignore.

If you think he' un-empathetic generally, that's a whole different thing again. You'll be able to discuss this kind of stuff in detail with a therapist.

slightlymiffedmother Sat 20-Aug-11 20:31:26

napac, havoca, the morris center.

Try googling survivor to thriver, also ptsd, as will help with flashbacks.

He may go through difficult emotions and be angry but this is nothing to do with you.

Abuse survivors have different coping mechanism and it sounds like your husband put his abuse in a mental box and closed the door. Something tiggered the door to open. He may decide to open the door, go through and come out the other side or he may just shut the door again.

Difficulty in responding to things talked about may just be because he's had a trigger. In ptsd terms think a soldier home from war who hears a car back fire and his mind jumps him back to being in the war zone with bombs and guns going off everywhere. A ca trigger can do that instantly, you can be having the most mundane conversation, someone will say something and the ca survivour will instantly be transported back to a ca incident.

With the right support and understanding he will get through it, but, he may not know what is happening to him through blocking the ca out. Get a lot of info, print it out and leave it lying around, he'll either ignore, read it or tear it up. Try and have replacement copies incase.

If he does talk to you about it, just listen, if he needs to go off somewhere just make sure you know where he is, I'm not advocating invading his privacy but a mobile tracker may be a good idea if he doesn't want to tell you where he's going don't push him. It may be a rough time but I wish you both the best.

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